pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Opportunities

Reading: Mark 1: 1-8

Verse Three: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.

At a school that I taught at for a long time, one year the theme was to performs RAKs – random acts of kindness.  The staff had t-shirts made up, we sought opportunities to do nice things for each other, and we tried to ‘catch’ students performing RAKs.  It spurred us all on to be on the lookout for opportunities to do random nice things for our students and for each other.  It was a good year at old DMS because whenever someone went out of their way to do something nice for you, it caused you to be mindful of finding something to do for someone else.  In this sense, it was contagious.

This same feeling seems to persist around this time of the year.  During the Advent season, love just seems to be a bit more in the air.  We hold the door open more readily, we buy and extra item or two at the grocery store for the food bank table at church, we smile and say ‘hello’ a little more warmly.  In many churches, we seek to go a bit further, doing something special during the Christmas season.  Some churches assemble Christmas Shoeboxes, some host a free Christmas dinner for the community, some collect a Christmas Eve offering for a cause in the community or in the world.  While all of these are just wonderful, they are just a part of what we are called to at the time of Christmas.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are also called to shine the light personally.  Just as John baptized in the wilderness, so too are we to call others to Jesus Christ through our words and actions.  Through the ways we demonstrate love, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness… we are seeking to “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him”.  It is by being Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart that we invite others to come to know Him.  One of my devotionals put it this way this morning: “When we love, He will come”.  It is a great thought.  Each day, from now through Christmas, may we individually seek opportunities to give another person a random act of kindness, allowing Jesus to shine His light and love into another’s heart.  May it be so.

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Ever Present

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-8

Verse Eight: “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God stands forever”.

The people Israel strayed from God and His ways, wandering off into idol worship and other sins.  The Babylonians invaded, destroyed the temple, and carried off the best and brightest people into exile.  It was a time of despair; a feeling of abandonment was prevalent.  At times we too stray away from God and find ourselves in sin, lost in the wilderness.  At other times, forces outside of ourselves seem to rise up and life crumbles around us.  In both cases, we feel alone and in a place of despair.  We too know what it can feel like to be out in the wilderness of life.

But because God is faithful, the time in the wilderness does not last forever.  Although it is sometimes necessary, God does not abandon us and leave us in the wilderness forever.  Because of His love and mercy, God seeks us out and calls us back.  Our passage today speaks of this: “Comfort, O comfort my people”.  God is saying that it is okay, that He is right there.  The prophet Isaiah goes on to remind them that a time is coming when a voice will call out in the desert and the paths will be made straight and level for the Lord.  The “glory of the Lord will be revealed”.  There is promise and hope even in our times in the wilderness.  Our God is faithful and true.

The voice of God encourages Isaiah to cry out on behalf of the people.  The Lord always wants to hear from His children.  Our passage goes on to remind us that the glory of man is like the grass of the fields or like the flowers – it flourishes or blooms today but then is gone.  It withers and fails.  But just as there is a temporal nature to our successes, so too is there a temporary nature to our failures.  Through the highs and the lows, God remains our loving and faithful God.  Isaiah reminds us of this, writing, “the word of our God stands forever”.  His words are love, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace, joy.

If we find ourselves in the wilderness today, may we cling to God’s words of hope, love, promise.  If we find ourselves in a good place today, may we rejoice in God’s words of mercy, peace, grace, forgiveness, and love.  God is our all in all.  He is our ever present help in the trial and our constant light in the joy.  Thanks be to God.


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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.


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Love, Forgiveness

Reading: Psal 99

Verse Eight: O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God.

God is, above all else, a God of love.  More than anything else, God is about loving His children.  The Psalm opens with God being exulted because He reigns.  The people offer their praise.  Then it shifts to God bringing justice and equality.  The people offer their praise.  In verse six three greats go to God and He answers the prayers of the faithful.  The people offer praise.  This is a God of love.  Truly God is worthy of our praise and worship.

All this is true of God today.  The Lord our God answers our prayers.  God continues to seek justice and equality for all peoples.  God continues to be in control of all things and to reign over all the earth.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

But perhaps the greatest example of God’s love is His forgiveness.  We experience a glimpse of this kind of love from our parents and then again with our own children.  But ours is a slightly flawed, human love.  God’s love is a perfect, holy love.  Verse eight reads, “O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God”.  Because of His love for us, He forgives us.  Over and over, without memory or score.  Over and over it is as if we had never sinned before.  This truly is a God of love.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

The love and forgiveness we receive from God is wonderful.  But it cannot end with us simply receiving it.  We in turn must go out and love and forgive others.  Because we are loved, we love others.  Because we are forgiven, we forgive others.  It is through our practicing love and forgiveness that we are part of bringing God’s love and forgiveness into other people’s lives.  It is a part of our witness to our faith.  This day may we be people of love and forgiveness, helping to build up relationships with others that further the kingdom of God here on earth.


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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?


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Empty… Fill

Readings: Psalm 106: 1-6 and Philippians 4: 7-9

Keys verses: We have sinned… we have done wrong and acted wickedly (Psalm 106:6).  Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Pairing today’s readings together yields a wonderful truth for our lives.  The Psalm leads us to seek a repentant heart, to admit our sins to God, to begin again to walk in step with His ways.  We are all sinful creatures, living in a world that is full of temptations and that glorifies many sins.  Satan is always at work in our lives, trying to pry his way into our hearts and minds, working on our bodily passions as well as our human frailties and weaknesses.  It is no wonder we occasionally sin.  However, it cannot stop there.  We cannot live with or in our sin.  Each day we must come before God to be honest with God and ourselves, to name our sins, to repent and seek His forgiveness for this time and God’s strength for the next time.  To do all this is essential because it makes space for God in our lives as it clears away all the gets in the way of our relationship with Him.

Paul speaks of what can fill this space created by confessing our sins.  Into that space created by releasing our sins and inviting God into our lives, Paul suggests we think about the things of God.  He writes, “Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things”.  When we train our minds to focus on these things, then we begin to see the world, ourselves, and others as God sees them.  This will help us to walk as Jesus walked – loving God and loving neighbor.  Walking this way will not only strengthen us in our battle with Satan, it will also lead us to have a thankful and grateful heart within us.  Once we are emptied, then He can fill us up.

When we honestly confess our sins and empty ourselves of these burdens, then we are opening ourselves up for God’s participation in our lives.  This is my prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  May it be so today.  


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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.